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Crit Rev Oncol Hematol. 2000 Nov-Dec;36(2-3):193-207.

Multicellular resistance: a paradigm for clinical resistance?

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Laboratoire de Biochimie et de Biologie Moléculaire, Faculté de Pharmacie, IFR 51, EA 2063, Reims, France.


Research on resistance to cancer treatment was mainly focused for 20 years on multidrug resistance (MDR). No useful method of reversing MDR, suitable for clinical use, has yet emerged from this large quantity of work. The reason could be an inadequate evaluation of the target. When grown in spheroids, cancer cells exhibit a phenomenon known as 'multicellular resistance' (MCR). Tumours in patients seem to present the same characteristics. The mechanisms underlying MCR can be classified into two forms: contact resistance and resistance inherent in the spheroid structure. Mechanisms of MCR include: inhibition of apoptosis, high proportion of quiescent cells, modulation of protein expression (including topoisomerases and repair enzymes), potential permeability problems, presence of a hypoxic and necrotic centre and other possible mechanisms that remain to be discovered. A new therapeutic class of drugs is required to overcome MCR. Compounds, which are able to disrupt communication and binding between tumour cells and their microenvironment, seem to be able to circumvent MCR. Interesting results are obtained in vitro and in vivo in mice with specific antibodies or peptides recognised by cell binding proteins. Interestingly, these compounds also appear to be able to inhibit metastasis. Hyaluronidase has already been used with anticancer drugs in patients and was shown to increase drug potency. The explanation given is that it improves drug penetration into spheroids. We now hypothesise that hyaluronidase, in fact, decreases MCR and thus could be the first member of a new therapeutic class.

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